To win the Tour de France, your build-up for the three week torture test must be near flawless. No crashes, no extended illness, no screw-ups in race calendar, no extraneous events adding stress or discord, no doping suspensions.
You only have to look at last years’s winner Cadel Evans and perennial runner-up Andy Schleck to see how difficult it is to get everything right, physically and mentally.
Evans is off to a much slower start this year and has already admitted that the extra demands on his time since winning the 2011 Tour have compromised his early season form. You can also add the life-changing (and diaper changing) event of adopting a child from Africa. As any parent will tell you, even one who is away half the time, raising a kid takes plenty of energy.
The Australian is also suffering the effects of a sinus infection that has thrown off his race calendar. He discounts his chances in this week’s Tour of Romandie saying “It will be difficult to make the same result as last year.” His build-up grade: B
The case for Andy Schleck is more confusing and far more worrisome. Despite the iron hand of Johan Bruyneel at the controls of the merged RadioShack and Leopard squad, Schleck’s form is worse that at this time last year. This week Schleck the Younger admitted he was “behind schedule.”
Schleck has pulled out of several stage races and so far seems unable to put together any consistent form. Bruyneel is losing patience and there public arguments about Andy’s mentor Kim Andersen is another disruption. (Perhaps rapper Lil’ Kim will be a smart replacement for Andersen.) In any case, the talk coming out of the RadioShack camp is about starting back at square one. His build-up score: D
Alberto Contador had plans to make the 2012 Tour de France his number one priority. However his build-up was wiped out before it even began when the Court for Arbitration ruled against him in his clenbuterol case. It wasn’t a crash or illness or a new team or disagreements with his DS. Nope, a three man jury in Switzerland destroyed his hopes. His build-up score: DNB — Did Not Build.
The number one ranked team in the world, Omega Pharma-QuickStep has two riders trying to build form for La Grand Boucle. Unfortunately, both were hit by cars on their training rides. Leipheimer counts himself luck to be alive and believes it will be difficult just to show up at the Tour of California in mid May, let alone compete for the win.
In a Tour with over 100 time trial kilometers, Leipheimer’s teammate World Time Trail champion Tony Martin was also an outside choice for a podium. That was until the multiple facial fractures and fractures to his shoulder blade and upper arm. Not the ideal way to arrive in Liege for the Grand Depart. Their Tour build-up grades: D
Ivan Basso is also having his troubles with crashes and illness. His build for the Giro d’Italia is already compromised and he’s not having those “good sensations.” The veteran stage racer may well turn the Giro over to the red-hot Vincenzo Nibali and set his sights on the Tour. His build-up grade: C- for Giro, Tour unknown.
Who has had a great build-up towards the Tour de France? The pale, skinny Brit from Team Sky, Bradley Wiggins. In a time trial-heavy Tour, Wiggins is on perfect course. He’s won Paris-Nice and taken out two time trial stage wins so far this season. No disruptions, no crashes, no illness, no arguments, no team upheavals. The only thing that might possibly compromise his chances are the arrival of sprinter Mark Cavendish and the goal of both yellow and green jerseys. His Tour build-up score: A+.
It isn’t easy to build form for the Tour de France. There are so many ways things can go haywire.